Great British Railways and the Flexi season tickets – are they worth it?

The UK Government announced the formation of a new railway body to oversee all aspects of UK railways – replacing Network Rail for infrastructure management, taking over ticketing across the network but retaining the use of private companies to actually run the services.

Although they don’t like people saying it and deny it themselves this is nationalisation in all but name.

For those interested here’s an excellent summary of how we got where we are:

Part of the announcement was the long awaited and long demanded reform of ticketing and in particular the provision of ‘part-time’ season tickets. Provision is going to be made in June for season tickets that will allow use for up to 8 days within a 28 day period – use of smart tickets and smart phone apps make this possible.

The department of transport headed by minister Grant Shapps (the name he is using these days) quoted savings for various routes:

Many people will see this as job done, the Government has sorted out the railways and reduced ticket prices for commuters.

But let’s make it clear that the savings quoted are in comparison to buying the equivalent peak time daily tickets.

If you work this out for the various routes it amounts to, on average, a 9% saving – ranging from 4% to 14%.

This is hardly game changing. Most of the quoted routes are suburban and the annual costs of a flexi season do work out cheaper than an annual season ticket in most cases – Bromsgrove to Birmingham seems to be an anomaly. In some cases (Woking to London) taking it under the annual season ticket price which it wasn’t before. But in this case only by a few hundred pounds – most people, if they can afford it, would choose to buy an annual season ticket and have the flexibility of being able to travel any day seven days a week. Other routes will probably be similarly priced so that the flexi tickets are redundant.

On this basis for commuters on longer routes the situation will probably not change at all – the maths simply doesn’t add up for the Government unless they slash daily ticket prices and thus flexi seasons or price season tickets on a proportional basis.

For instance if you apply the quoted savings to the Market Harborough to London St Pancras East Midlands Railways route:

The current Anytime Return price is £129 per day = £117.39 with a flexi season ticket discount = £10,800 per annum based on 2 days travel for 46 weeks a year. Way more than the current annual season ticket cost of £8,836. And for 3 days it would work out double!

This is of course the present situation for this route – annual season is significantly cheaper than buying daily. That’s because the daily standard tickets have been allowed to rise over decades by successive Governments at the whim of private train companies. They are not regulated to fixed inflation+ rises by the Government.

What many people were hoping for was a radical shake up of ticketing so that flexible annual season tickets were offered on a proportional basis. For instance, to buy a 2 day a week annual flexi season you would pay a proportion of the annual cost. There are many ways of working this out but let’s take the generous approach and say that it should be 2/5’s of the annual cost (2 days a week over the 5 day working week – in reality annual season allow 7 days travel but that’s not usually how they are used by most commuters).

So in the case of Market Harborough to London St Pancras this would be 2/5’s of £8,836 = £3,534.

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be seen as fair – commuters are making an annual commitment to travel and are paying for what they use. It would encourage more use of trains on a flexible basis.

The problem for the Government is that this does not tally with daily ticket prices and the overall revenue it brings in – that’s not the commuters fault, it’s the Government’s.

Compare this to Germany where for example an equivalent journey (distance wise Market Harborough to London – remember £129 Anytime return) between Magdeberg and Berlin would cost you 65EUR (£56) for a return on high speed trains. Season ticket wise, in Germany you can buy a BahnCard 100 for 4,027EUR (£3,466) – interestingly similar to our proportional calculation of £3,534 for the Market Harborough to London annual season ticket. The big difference though is that the Bahncard 100 allows you to travel anywhere on the Deutsche Bahn rail network! And there are equivalent Bahncards for 50% and 25% reductions on turn up and buy tickets so your choices are numerous, simple, flexible and a lot cheaper than the UK.

Now I know from my German friends that train travel in Germany is not great particularly on non-inter city routes. And that as a consequence of this and an excellent road system car travel is much more prevalent. But the price differential is just extraordinary.

How do they achieve these kinds of ticket prices. Yes, through general taxation for the common good but also by running train services in the UK and reinvesting the profits they easily achieve from the Government sanctioned high ticket prices in their own state owned networks. Nothing in the latest ‘Great British Railways’ proposals addresses that scandal!

UK Government Big Brother Digital Police state is Coming

On the back of their recent election wins the tory UK Governement is pushing full steam ahead with various data handling proposals and actually implementing them without any concerns for data privacy.

Firstly, we have the National Fraud Initiative Data Matching Powers and new Code of Data Matching Practice which allows the sharing of data across public bodies and also allows sharing with private entities with little or no oversight:

Secondly, we get the proposal in the opening of Parliament’s Queen’s speech to make photo id mandatory when going to vote – potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters:

Thirdly, we now learn that the NHS is creating a new centralised database of patient data, again with little oversight and the possibility, or rather certainty given this Government’s track record, that the data will be shared with US health care companies:

I took up the opportunity to contribute to the NFI consultation:

“Dear Cabinet Office consultation team,

Privacy in a digital age can only be achieved by data on subjects being difficult to obtain, store and distribute.

Private data must also be available to data subjects in a transparent way so that erroneous data can be legally challenged or deleted.

Consent to data storage by data subjects is also vitally important.

If all three of these criteria are met then confidence in and support of any personal data storage and query system by the public whether run by Government or private entities can be met.

It is clear that the current proposals in the National Fraud Initiative Data Matching Powers and new Code of Data Matching Practice do not meet these criteria.

Specifically, the proposal to allow police entities to interrogate personal data via the National Fraud Initiative without any or little oversight gives these entities a free for all in obtaining personal data – making it easy for these entities should not be the starting aim of the proposals. Checks and balances are required in a democracy to make sure that such powers are not being abused. The additional proposals to include personal data held by private entities and allow private entities to also interrogate data via the NFI is even more worrying. This will and should be called a ‘big brother’ proposal – “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, 1984.

There appears to be no mention of an individual’s right to interrogate and request amendments to the data being held on them. Why make it easy for police and private entities to search for information on an individual but not make it easy for the individual themselves. There should be a presumption that data held on an individual is not just owned by the state or a private entity but is also owned by the individual. Transparency and the right to challenge should be the fundamental basis for any proposals on the storage of personal data.

Consent has become a hot topic in the social media age. Many individuals are shunning online services once they realise that there personal data is being sold and used for profit by faceless private organisations that, in legal terms, own the personal data they have collected. There is widespread debate as to whether this situation should be allowed to continue with all the implications for a healthy democracy that such privately held massive silos of data bring. Our elected government should not be going down the same road but should be creating new systems of data storage with accountability and the rights of individuals built in.”

We’ll see what happens with the photo ID proposals which I assume will be debated in Parliament at some point.

As for the NHS database intiative this seems to have just been nodded through without any debate. I have written to my MP, Neil O’Brien:


What is the Government playing at!

First we get NFI proposals to widen the sharing of information across public bodies with little scrutiny (see my previous email), then proposals to require electors to present photo ID when voting and now we get the imposing of a new NHS central database.

There appears to be no oversight, no debate in parliament and just a rush to push through privacy breaking systems all over the place. They shouldn’t even be seeing the light of day.

Please ask them to get a grip – there are much more important things to be worrying about!”

I think that sums it up – now get off yer backsides and do something about it before the thought police start coming for you.